Water & Watersheds

Teaching about the water cycle can be made more realistic and valuable for students by incorporating what they know about water-where it comes from, what happens to it after they use it, and what problems are associated with its use. Watersheds, the land area draining into a single body of water, can be considered a basic unit of the landscape that determines water availability, movement, and quality. When students study watersheds, they learn in a personal way about the importance of water, and how land use affects surface and groundwater.

Small Watershed Ecology Assessment Project


The SWEAP materials and activities assist teachers in guiding their students as they compare the ecology of three small watersheds with different land uses (e.g., agricultural, forested, developed).  Students learn about the factors that determine the quantity and quality of water flowing from any watershed, and the impact this has on aquatic ecosystems.  

  • Watersheds and People

    Students generate a list of local land use activities and consider how these activities may affect local water quality and quantity.

  • Watershed Boundaries

    Students use topographic maps to determine watershed boundaries and better understand how watersheds are delineated.

  • Land Use in Small Watersheds

    Students learn that there may be a range of land use activities in any given watershed and we can use aerial photographs to determine the relative proportion of different land use practices in a large area.

  • Soil Beneath Us

    Students learn that soil is a complex mixture of rock, organic material, and water, along with air spaces. Through soil testing and map reading, they learn that soil composition varies from site to site depending on the underlying rock type, overlying vegetation, time, topography, climate, and chemicals carried by water percolating through the soil. Lastly, students understand that soils in a watershed affect the chemistry and quantity of water as it percolates through them.

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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